Havant’s hopes of qualifying for a place in England Hockey’s Premier Division elite next season received a setback when Exeter University beat them 4-2 at the Lee Valley Olympic Park.
Now they must beat already qualified Old Georgians in the Sunday 10am push back to progress and, at the same time, hope winless Bowdon can beat Exeter.
Havant produced a nervy start as the university dominated the opening minutes. High intensity and quick ball pace were Premier League qualities, which put the students on the front foot.
They had set a game plan by identifying pre-match Havant’s leading areas of distribution and closed these down effectively, whilst probing the Western Conference winners’ defence overloading and with the use of the aerial ball.
Despite this Havant should have taken the lead in the 9th minute when Mike Deller-Merricks drove along the bye line and tried to squeeze the ball between keeper and post, rather than pass the ball past the keeper to Ethan Hoddle and Jack Stubbings who were queuing up in front of an empty goal.
From this point Havant started to work themselves into the game, but despite this it was University of Exeter that took the lead when Daniel Jackson crashed a reverse shot into the corner of the goal.
Havant had a chance to reply in the 16th minute but their penalty corner specialist Federico Bertoni flicked wide of the goal.
Havant won their second penalty corner in the 28th minute, but the flick was weak and easily saved by the students’ keeper.
Havant were now enjoying their best spell of the game with Charlie Stubbings once again being the architect with boundless energy and running at the students defence at every opportunity.
In the 31st minute University of Exeter won their first penalty corner of the game which resulted in a save by Maciej and then a retake from which James Thomas made it 2-0 with a shot which bobbled through the keeper’s legs.
Havant paid the penalty for a Miguel Rodrigues miss when James Carson converted a penalty corner, short after which James Thomas scored his second goal of the game (to make it 4-0) by deflecting a shot over goalkeeper Maciej Pacanowski, who collected the Western Conference player of the season award before the start.
Havant rallied with Charlie Stubbings’ tenacity and sheer determination taking the ball into the students circle past a number of defenders and presenting Mike Deller-Merricks with a relatively easy conversation in the 50th minute.
Six minutes later Pakistan international Atiq Arshad pulled a second goal back from Havant’s third penalty corner.
Two minutes later Havant won another penalty corner with the momentum firmly with the Hampshire team, but a very timid flick resulted.
The university won two further penalty corners, both being saved and at the other end Ethan Hoddle was put through with a one versus one on the keeper, but the keeper was up to the challenge, as he was when Atiq Arshad manoeuvred his way into the circle and sent a powerful shot goal bound a few minutes later.
A late University of Exeter penalty corner crashed against the Havant post in the 67th minute and despite Havant pressing they were unable to score further.
Exeter now play Bowdon (who lost 6-3) to Old Georgians, who have now qualified for the Premier Division next season. For Havant to progress, they need points off Old Georgians and hope Bowdon pull off what will be a surprising result against the students.
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